Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Boca Raton Takes A Stand Against Conversion Therapy

By Bryanna Basilio. Boca Raton Tribune
October 20, 2017

The Boca Raton City Council has voted to enact an ordinance which prohibits conversion therapy for minors by licensed professionals. The ban to take effect immediately.

Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers was the only council member to be opposed to the ordinance saying,  “I see it as more as a state health issue and for that I am not in support of the ordinance.” Regardless the ordinance was approved, 1 – 4.

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), encompasses a range of discredited counseling practices by which health care providers or counselors seek to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression through aversion treatment.  

The county’s most effective civil rights organization,The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), asked the city to enact the ordinance. In the past 29 years, the independent non-profit organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 120 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) community.

In the past year alone, PBCHRC has been successful in convincing elected officials in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Wellington and Greenacres to prohibit conversion therapy for minors.

“The discredited practice of conversion therapy has long been rejected by virtually all of our nation’s mainstream medical, psychiatric, psychological and mental health organizations,” said PBCHRC Board Member Trent Steele who is also an attorney who has spearheaded the yearlong project to ban conversion therapy throughout Palm Beach County. “Instilling self-hatred in children is not therapy,” he said.

Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist and a leading expert on conversion therapy, notes that the practice of conversion therapy is based on two false premises.

“First, it is based on the falsehood that being gay, lesbian or transgender is a mental disorder or defect that needs to be cured,” said Needle. “And second, it is based on the presumption that being LGBTQ is something that can actually be changed through therapy.”

Needle, who is also an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, states that the potential risks of conversion therapy on children include shame, guilt, depression, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends, social withdrawal, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, hostility and blame towards parents, high risk behaviors, confusion, self-harm, substance abuse and suicidal idealization.

“Any ethical mental health practitioner should not attempt to cure or repair gender identity or sexual orientation through these scientifically invalid techniques,” Needle added. “Attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating impact on a minor.”

Boca Raton joins more than a dozen other Florida municipalities — West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal, Key West, Wellington, and Tampa. Greenacres has enacted conversion therapy bans for minors as well. In addition, Oakland Park is expected to enact a similar ban on October 18. Before year’s end, Palm Beach County Commissioners will consider a countywide ban.

The Boca Raton conversion therapy ordinance and all of the similar ordinances enacted to date applies only to state-licensed therapists. Unlicensed therapists, such as those associated with faith-based groups, retain their religious freedom to engage in such work. Additionally, adults remain free to seek out conversion therapy. 

Although there have been several court challenges to the constitutionality of banning conversion therapy, all have failed. On four occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to the constitutionality laws banning conversion therapy for minors.

State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Atlantis) introduced a bill for consideration by the 2018 Florida Legislature to prohibit conversion therapy on minors statewide. However, similar bills filed by Clemens in the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions were never heard.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie issued the following statement: “While banning conversion therapy does not appear to be a priority action in either Tallahassee or Washington, DC, tonight Boca Raton took another step to protect LGBTQ youth in our city from the harms of conversion therapy. Allowing anyone to expose children to such harm is inconsistent with the values of the City of Boca Raton.”

In addition, conversion therapy has been soundly rejected by the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association and the School Social Work Association of America.